July 31, 2014
With some notable exceptions, the men who drafted both our federal and Missouri constitutions (at least the most recent draft) pretty much got it right. This is not to say constitutions should be immune from amendment, but we believe such changes should only be made rarely, with sober forethought, clear purpose and never to restrict the people’s due and just rights.
One of the things the Missouri Constitution got right is granting the right to propose legislation through ballot initiative. This is direct democracy at work and Missouri is one of only 24 states that allows its citizens to propose specific legislation for statewide consideration of the voters. And, we believe we are a better and freer state for it.
That is why we find cause for concern with Constitutional Amendment 1 as it will appear on Tuesday’s ballot: “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure that the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices shall not be infringed?”
What the provision’s broad and vague wording actually means in practical terms remains a heated point of debate between supporters and opponents, as evidenced by our front-page story in today’s edition of the Democrat. Perhaps the only point of agreement between both sides is that the impetus for Amendment 1 was 2010’s successful Proposition B, a citizen-proposed ballot initiative that sought to place restrictions on large-scale dog breeding operations.
After concerns were raised over the implementation of the law, the Missouri General Assembly and Gov. Jay Nixon proved more than capable of finding a compromise that largely retained the spirit of voter intent while ensuring the final measure as enacted was not unduly burdensome to humane and legitimate businesses.
No constitutional amendment was needed. The system worked.
If the intent of Amendment 1 is to shield our farmers and ranchers from nuisance lawsuits, that is already ensured by Section 537.295 of the Missouri Revised Statutes.
If, as it seems, the intent is to limit the right of the people to seek future ballot initiatives regarding any topic having to do with undefined “agricultural production and ranching practices,” we must urge voters to reject the measure on principle.
We unequivocally support the right of any tax-paying Missourian to own property and to farm and ranch on that property as a livelihood in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. We also believe the regulatory burden on agriculture should not be so onerous that it proves a disincentive to members of such a vital sector of our economy and culture; surely all Missourians have a vested interest in seeking to ensure that those “agricultural production and ranching practices” are carried out in a safe, humane and ethically responsible fashion that doesn’t negatively impact the state as a whole.
Agriculture directly affects the food we eat, the air we breathe and the water we drink. Even small family farms do not operate in bubbles and when discussing large-scale factory farms or processing plants, the impact on neighboring communities can be significant.
We see no reason to believe that future lawmakers, governors or judges will prove any less adept at making sure a bad idea does not become a bad law than current officials, who proved themselves capable when dealing with Proposition B.
The Missouri Constitution should be reserved for laying out the broad framework of rights and responsibilities that direct the governance of our state, not as a testing ground for blanket protections against a threat the amendment can’t even define.
For these reasons we urge a “no” vote on Amendment 1.